Monday Scramble: More superlatives from Class of '11

By Will GrayOctober 19, 2015, 4:00 pm

Emiliano Grillo notches another win for the heralded Class of '11, Kevin Na goes down swinging, Rory McIlroy picks up his participation trophy and Lexi Thompson exacts some revenge, in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

It wasn't pretty, but Grillo got the job done Sunday at the Open. Barely.

With the sun quickly setting in wine country, the Argentinian polished off Na in overtime to earn his maiden win in his first start as a PGA Tour member. Granted, he had the tournament on his putter blade minutes earlier only to gag away a 3-footer, a yank that was eerily similar to his short miss that would have won the Puerto Rico Open in March.

But while his first go-around ended in playoff defeat, this time Grillo bounced back for the win. Now he can book 2016 travel for Kapalua, Augusta National and Rio de Janeiro, where he will almost certainly represent Argentina at the Olympics next summer. 

The only rookie to win last season was Nick Taylor at the easily-forgotten Sanderson Farms Championship, but Grillo quickly put a stamp on the new campaign and cemented his status as the top rookie to watch. With his card already secure, he won two weeks ago at the Tour Championship, only to lament how long it had taken him to break through in the States. Now he's exempt through August 2018 and will be able to hand-pick his schedule next year as a member of the OWGR top 50.

At 23 years young, he's only getting started.

1. It looks like the (high school) class of 2011 might have a bit of a future. Led by Jordan Spieth and reigning Rookie of the Year Daniel Berger, the Tour's newest wave of talent includes a bunch of players born in 1993 (let that sink in for a bit). It also includes Grillo, an elder statesman from his graduating class, along with can't-miss prospects like Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers and Ollie Schneiderjans.

The group of rising stars are somewhat close-knit after years of competition against each other on the junior circuit, and Grillo's win was followed quickly by congratulatory tweets from Spieth and Thomas, among others. It won't be the last time the '11ers will have a chance to toast one of their own this season.

2. Hats off to Na, who took another runner-up finish in stride. Na's chances to win evaporated on the second extra hole, when his driver off the deck barely got off the ground. But in the moments after Grillo sank the winning putt, Na succinctly assessed the situation and deemed it poor execution of the proper shot.

"If I were to do it over again," Na said, "I'd still hit driver."

Na hasn't won since 2011, and this is his second playoff loss in the last 16 months. Despite the lack of hardware, he has maintained a regular spot inside the Official World Golf Ranking top 50 and has made the Tour Championship two years in a row. His name isn't often discussed among the Tour's most consistent players, but it should be.

3. It's tough to win on the PGA Tour ... perhaps not as tough as some of the contenders made it seem down the stretch in Napa. Maybe we've been spoiled by the closing ability of Spieth and Jason Day, but the final holes Sunday were filled with a bevy of missed putts and poor pitches.

Extra nerves from guys looking for their first win? Sure, but it was a grizzled veteran with two wins under his belt who offered up the worst shot of the day. Jason Bohn had the lead and less than 60 yards left for his approach to No. 16. He then chunked a wedge and barely got the ball halfway to the green. A potential birdie turned into a costly bogey, and Bohn missed the playoff by a shot when three closing pars would have gotten it done. Ouch.

4. For those scoring at home, Grillo now has a 200-point lead over Na in the season-long FedEx Cup race. The Tour won't turn away sponsors if they're willing to back seven-figure checks to tournament winners, but the saturation of the product still seems problematic. The shiny season-long trophy probably hasn't touched Spieth's mantle yet, and it's now once again up for grabs.

In a season that already lasts over 10 months, a little bit of a breather would go a long way. Oh well.

5. Rory McIlroy fulfilled his obligation this week in Napa, but he seemed very much like a man who showed up to punch a clock. With the Race to Dubai looming, McIlroy would not have played this week were he not required to because of his participation in a non-sanctioned event in Turkey three years ago. He even went as far as to say that given the choice, he would have been in Wales this weekend to watch Ireland play in the Rugby World Cup.

McIlroy's appearance certainly boosted ticket sales, and he left with a solid T-26 finish (and probably a few bottles of nice wine). But don't expect a return visit anytime soon. 

6. Somewhat lost amid the sudden-death finish, McIlroy's former Ryder Cup teammate, Justin Rose, quietly spit the bit in Napa. Rose made the turn Sunday at 14 under, and as it turned out he needed only to play the final nine in 1 under to make the playoff.

Instead, he came home in 2-over 38 to fall into a tie for sixth.

It's hardly a bad result, but it's another near-miss for Rose, whose stellar play over the last six months has been largely overshadowed by those barely ahead of him on the leaderboard. Since his win in New Orleans in April, Rose's PGA Tour record is as follows: 13 starts, 10 top-20s, seven top-sixes and a pair of runner-up finishes. But, alas, no trophies.

7. Beware the injured hospitalized golfer? Tyrone van Aswegen was barely able to stand up Sunday morning, and a quick trip to the E.R. ended with a diagnosis of vertigo and severe dehydration.

"I woke up and the room was spinning," the South African said. "I thought, 'Oh man, this is not good.'"

Van Aswegen was still in the hospital an hour before his scheduled starting time, but after a quick discharge he was able to make it to the first tee. He closed with a 68, including two birdies across his final three holes, to notch a career-best T-3 finish. Not bad for a guy who was fighting to earn his card just a couple weeks ago.

8. Speaking of which, it was an impressive debut for several graduates from the Tour Finals. In addition to Grillo and van Aswegen, Smylie Kaufman, Luke Guthrie, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Loupe all finished T-10 or better just two weeks after teeing it up in the Tour Championship.

It's never fun to go through the four-week gauntlet of Finals with only a few cards up for grabs, but those who advance are poised to carry that momentum right into the fall portion of the new season. 

9. Noted author and mental coach Bob Rotella once penned a book entitled, "Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect." Well, Amy Yang took a shot at disproving that theory, closing her final round in South Korea with nine straight birdies to tie Beth Daniel's LPGA record.

"I don't know what just happened," Yang said afterward, seemingly taking a cue from Will Ferrell's character in "Old School."

Yang's back-nine performance was one to remember, and all the more impressive considering she didn't seem to have much going during the round after making the turn in 1-under 35. But when the putts start rolling in, the cup can seem like a bucket. At least, that's what I'm told.

10. Weeks after Lydia Ko chased her down at the Evian, Lexi Thompson got a bit of revenge by holding off the Kiwi sensation to win the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship. It wasn't a major, but it was still a quality victory for Thompson, who now has a pair of LPGA trophies this year and helped the U.S. to a Solheim Cup win last month. 

Women's golf is always a better product when the stars perform to their abilities, and after a slow start to the year, Thompson has certainly held up her end of the bargain in recent months.

11. It's hard to believe that Yani Tseng hasn't won on the LPGA in nearly four years. While Tseng is still far from her former perch atop the Rolex Rankings, she continues to show flashes of form that indicate a win is near. The latest example came this week, when she earned her third runner-up of the year, and her third top-five finish in her last four starts.

After falling off the map, many were quick to label Tseng as one of the game's biggest and most curious busts. It's easy to forget that even now, she is only 26 with plenty of years ahead of her. If Tseng has the mental strength to remain on the comeback trail, it won't be long before she's back in the winner's circle - perhaps as soon as next week, when the LPGA heads to her native Taiwan.

12. You may not have noticed, but Matt Every withdrew during the second round at Silverado. It continues a troubling trend for the two-time API champ, who now has four mid-tournament withdrawals since June. And it's not just a nagging injury leading to these early exits - Every has previously cited neck, wrist and stomach ailments, although no reason was given for his most recent withdrawal.

Since a T-42 finish at The Players in May, the only time Every has played the weekend was at the no-cut WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when he finished 74th in a 77-man field. Whatever the reason, it's clear that the form that led him to back-to-back wins at Bay Hill is nowhere to be found.

13. One day before notching his breakthrough win, Grillo nearly beaned McIlroy with a tee shot. McIlroy was standing near the green on the reachable par-4 17th, and Grillo took dead aim without realizing that the green hadn't cleared. The ball missed the oblivious Ulsterman's dome by mere inches.

If I were McIlroy, I might bring a batter's helmet with me to my next start. You know, just in case.

14. Bernhard Langer shot a final-round 65 to rally for a three-shot win at the San Antonio Championship, his 25th victory against the over-50 crowd. Not much to add here, other than he is now T-3 on the tour's all-time victory list. Just four back of Lee Trevino ... and 20 shy of No. 1 Hale Irwin.

This week's WTH comes to you in two installments. First, we have Matt Kuchar in the wind-swept Fiji International, watching as his ball is magically blown into the hole for a weather-aided bogey:

Kuchar went on to win the event, but the question remains: why in the world was Kuchar playing in Fiji? Sure, he was already in that neck of the woods after last week's Presidents Cup, and he probably had a few rea$ons for teeing it up in the OneAsia Tour event. But combined with an appearance in Mexico at next week's America's Golf Cup, Kuchar will play three straight weeks in three different foreign countries - certainly an unconventional approach to the offseason.

Next, we have the sad fate of Alvaro Quiros, whose tap-in at the Portugal Masters did not go as planned:

I mean, come on. That's just mean.

This week's award winners ...

The Space Man Strikes Again: Andy Sullivan continued his breakthrough season, winning in a nine-shot romp in Portugal to become the first three-time winner this year on the European Tour.

Sullivan may be best known to American fans as the guy who won a trip to space thanks to an ace at last year's KLM Open - a prize he doesn't plan on redeeming anytime soon, by the way - but he is now a player to watch thanks to his on-course performance.

The Englishman started the year ranked No. 150 in the world and is now inside the top 50, hallowed ground that brings with it an opportunity to customize a schedule of elite events - starting with next month's WGC-HSBC Champions. When he contended at the Memorial this summer, Sullivan said he would welcome the opportunity to play more in America.

If he keeps this up, he just might get his wish.

Stick Around For Closest-to-the-Pin Prizes: It seemed odd at the time, but kudos to the European Tour for thinking outside the box and going with a shotgun start during the third round of the Portugal Masters. With heavy rains in the forecast, officials sent everyone out at 8 a.m. local time, with the leaders off No. 1 tee. The result? The round was completed before the rains hit, and the tournament got in 72 holes as expected.

But after weather shortened last year's affair to only 36 holes, perhaps it's time to look for a new date (or venue?) for this event before it gets washed off the schedule.

Give Her All the Scrabble Points: The season-ending Symetra Tour Championship was won by, wait for it, Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong. Aside from the fact that it would violate the letter-usage rules of Scrabble, her surname would be worth 35 points. 

This Doesn't Make Much Sense: Charl Schwartzel finished T-6 at, but it would have been an even better result were it not for an eyeroll-inducing rules violation before Thursday's opening round.

As Schwartzel explained it, he thought his tee time was 12:45 p.m. local time when it was actually 12:40. After rushing to the tee, he made it to the edge of the scoring area as the starter was introducing playing partner Steven Bowditch. Schwartzel was hitting third in the group so he thought he was in the clear, but as it turns out the rule stipulates he had to be on the teeing ground before the starter began any of his player introductions. 

The error cost Schwartzel two shots before his tournament even began, and it showed yet again that golf has some seriously dumb rules.

Next Time, Just Call Uber: When we last heard from Will Wilcox, he was withdrawing from the Deutsche Bank Championship after injuring his knee getting into his courtesy car. This week, his loaner was broken into before the tournament started, with the thieves absconding with some new golf shoes among other items.

Wilcox finished T-10 despite a final-round 73, but he may be well-served to leave his tournament transportation in the hands of someone else this season.

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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.